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The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook

The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook

Authors: Dathan D. Rush Ed.D., CCC-SLP, M'Lisa L. Shelden PT, Ph.D.   Foreword Author: Winnie Dunn Ph.D., OTR

ISBN: 978-1-59857-067-0
Pages: 240
Copyright: 2011
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Size:  8.5 x 11.0
Stock Number:  70670
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Evidence-based and highly effective, coaching helps early childhood practitioners support other professionals and families as they enhance existing knowledge, develop new skills, and promote healthy development of young children. This hands-on guide shows professionals how to conduct skillful coaching in any setting—home, school, or community.

An expanded, more practical follow-up to the groundbreaking Coaching Families and Colleagues in Early Childhood, this is the guidebook that walks professionals step by step through the coaching process and shows them explicitly what best practices look like. Developed by the foremost authorities on coaching and informed by the authors' staff development and technical assistance activities with other professionals, this book directly addresses the real-world challenges of coaching and gives readers concrete guidance on successful strategies and interactions.

Preservice and in-service early childhood professionals will

  • master the five characteristics of coaching practices—observation, action, reflection, feedback, and joint planning
  • see exactly how to conduct a positive coaching session, with transcripts of successful coaching in action
  • learn about the qualities of effective coaches, including openness to experiences, adaptability, empathy, and honesty
  • adjust coaching techniques to meet the specific needs of early childhood educators, parents, and caregivers
  • incorporate coaching into professional development programs to ensure immediate use of the latest best practices
  • understand how coaching differs from other collaborative models, such as consultation, direct teaching, and counseling
  • discover cutting-edge early childhood research that demonstrates the effectiveness of a coaching approach

To keep their skills sharp and ensure adherence to best coaching practices, readers will get easy-to-use, photocopiable tools that help them implement coaching consistently and effectively. They'll also have samples so they can see how to use the tools to evaluate and improve their interactions.

With this essential coaching guidebook, every early childhood professional including developmental specialists, Early Head Start and Head Start staff, early literacy specialists, infant mental health specialists, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, social workers, service coordinators, speech-language pathologists, and teachers will provide effective support to families and other professionals to enhance developmental outcomes for all young children.

Includes practical forms & tools:

  • Coaching Practices Rating Scale—determines how well a practitioner is using coaching practices with families or colleagues
  • Coaching Log—helps coaches record and critically analyze a coaching conversation
  • Coaching Plan—used to develop the initial coaching plan and the action plans for achieving desired outcomes
  • Framework for Reflective Questioning—helps coaches evaluate the entire coaching process, recognizing what worked and what could be done differently next time
  • Transcripts of successful coaching in action
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Review by: Mary Jones, Part C Coordinator, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Boise

"This impressive collection of research references, definitions, concrete examples, and prompts for reflection serves as a one source guide for early interventionists engaged in coaching families. Each team committed to evidence based practices in early intervention should have a copy!"

Review by: Sue Reed, Director, Early Literacy for Every Child, University of Southern Maine

"This book makes coaching come alive! With pages and pages of real-life coaching dialog from home and classroom settings, this is an invaluable resource to any early childhood practitioner."

Review by: Camille Catlett, Scientist, FPG Child Development Institute

"Provides clear, thoughtful, well-researched answers, definitions, guidelines, and frameworks . . . a much-needed light at the end of the professional development tunnel."

Review by: Linda Labas, Early Childhood Coordinator, Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies (UCEDD), The University of Maine

"Finally a resource with information about 'why to' as well as 'how to' support professionals in the coaching role. Full of practical examples, resources and concrete strategies . . . A must-have for a coach's toolkit!"

About the Authors
Winnie Dunn

  1. Introduction to Coaching
  2. Research Foundations of Coaching
  3. Characteristics of Effective Coaches
  4. Coaching Compared with Other Approaches to Adult Interaction
  5. How to Use a Coaching Style of Interaction
    • Appendix A: Coaching Plan
    • Appendix B: Framework for Reflective Questioning
  6. Strategies for Learning the Coaching Process
    • Appendix A: Coaching Practices Rating Scale
    • Appendix B: Coaching Log
  7. Coaching Families
  8. Coaching Teachers
  9. Coaching as Part of Professional Development
  10. The Future of Coaching in Early Childhood Intervention


Excerpted from Chapter 3 of The Early Childhood Coaching Handbook, by Dathan D. Rush, M.A., CCC-SLP, & M'Lisa L. Shelden, PT, Ph.D. Copyright© 2011 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What does it take to be an effective coach? Do specific characteristics exist that affect or predict an individual's ability to serve in the role of coach? How does a coach's personality influence his or her effectiveness? These are a few questions that might come to mind for a practitioner who is considering implementing a coaching style of interaction.

In her chapter "Talking to Families," P.J. McWilliam (2010) noted that there are many challenges to developing effective family-professional partnerships and that interpersonal factors play a substantial role in the quality of such relationships. In their seminal work, Dunst and Trivette (2009) researched characteristics of effective helpgiving that relate to the field of early childhood. These key principles must be employed in order to provide "help" that is indeed helpful and meaningful rather than being detrimental and creating dependency. In their text Using Skilled Dialogue to Transform Challenging Interactions, Barrera and Kramer (2009) provide valuable information on how two people who are very different from each other can effectively engage in a nonhierarchical and nonjudgmental partnership. This chapter is intended to compile the information from such sources in order to help both experienced and novice coaches develop a deeper understanding of what characterizes an effective coach and to promote self-reflection among coaches to ensure that they take a research-based approach to helpgiving.


Understanding and implementing family-centered practices is a key principle in early childhood intervention (Brewer, McPherson, Magrab, & Hutchins, 1989; Hanson, Johnson, Jeppson, Thomas, & Hall, 1994; Johnson, 1990; McBride, Brotherson, Joanning, Whiddon, & Demmitt, 1993; Shelton, Jeppson, & Johnson, 1987; Shelton & Stepanek, 1994, 1995; Turnbull, Turbiville, & Turnbull, 2000; Workgroup on Principles and Practices in Natural Environments, 2007). Although key elements of family-centered care have been delineated, infusing the approach into the day-to-day implementation in early childhood systems, programs, and individual teacher and therapist practices is easier said than done.

At the core of the provision of family-centered care lies the premise that practitioners believe that all families are capable and competent. In addition, when a coach is using a family-centered approach, he or she enters into the process of developing a relationship with the family. The coach pays particular attention to "leveling the playing field" and supporting parents and other care providers, recognizing what they have to offer and contribute in the partnership. McWilliam (2010) provided a checklist for implementing principles of family-centered care by effectively communicating with families in ways that 1) create opportunities for informal dialogue, 2) acknowledge family strengths and competencies, 3) solicit parents' opinions and ideas, 4) seek understanding, 5) demonstrate caring for the entire family, and 6) acknowledge and respond to the feelings and emotions of the family.

When a coach is implementing family-centered care, his or her ability to effectively communicate with family members is an essential skill. Characteristics of an effective communicator include but are not limited to demonstrating attributes of being caring, empathetic, and engaging. Use of active listening and being mindful of and responsive to nonverbal communication also are behaviors and strategies that, when implemented, lead to expanded opportunities for nonhierarchical coach–coachee interactions (Burley-Allen, 1995). In the literature about family-centered practices, interpersonal qualities of practitioners are considered to be vital factors for promoting positive outcomes for families (Blue-Banning, Summers, Frankland, Nelson, & Beegle, 2004; Dunst & Trivette, 2009; McWilliam, Tocci, & Harbin, 1998; Park & Turnbull, 2003). Trust, honesty, respect, and behaviors that promote equitable relationships are repeatedly mentioned as characteristics of effective practitioners who are implementing family-centered care.


As we mentioned in Chapter 2, over the past several decades, the work of Dunst and Trivette (see Dunst & Trivette, 2009, for summary and review) informs the field of early childhood intervention in many ways, but particularly important are their in-depth contributions related to effective helpgiving practices. Helpgiving that promotes positive outcomes for all family members and is family centered has two components: 1) relational helpgiving practices and 2) participatory helpgiving practices.

Relational helpgiving practices focus on the relationship between the helpgiver and the help receiver, particularly the help receiver's appraisal of the presumed beliefs of the helpgiver toward the help receiver. More specifically, relational helpgiving includes both helpgiver interpersonal skills with help receivers and the attitudes of the helpgiver about the help receiver's capability to become more competent. For example, consider a situation in which an early intervention coach is supporting a young, first-time mother and her newborn infant who was prenatally exposed to cocaine. If through his actions, comments, or behavior the coach appears to the mother to be negative or judgmental, their partnership will be compromised and the outcomes for that parent and child will probably not be optimized. Relational helpgiving practices include behaviors such as compassion, empathy, active listening, openness, honesty, and trustworthiness. The help receiver must feel supported and must know and believe that the helpgiver cares about him or her on a personal level, as well as caring about the outcomes for the help receiver and his or her family (Dunst & Trivette, 2009).

The second component of effective helpgiving practices is participatory helpgiving. Participatory helpgiving includes both choice and action on the part of the help receiver and responsiveness and flexibility on the part of the helpgiver. It emphasizes support of the action and participation of the help receiver and focuses on strengthening existing help receiver capabilities and promoting new help receiver competencies. Participatory helpgiving practices meaningfully involve help receivers in the choices and decisions that they make and the actions that they take to achieve their desired goals and outcomes. The focus of participatory helpgiving is to implement strategies that support the help receiver to attribute accomplishments, new skills and capabilities, and achievement of desired outcomes to his or her actions and decisions. Research indicates that in order for positive outcomes to be achieved, both relational and participatory helpgiving practices must be present (Dunst & Trivette, 2009).

Consider a practitioner who observes that one of the children she supports through home visiting does not have any nice toys. The coach is concerned about this situation. She knows that her program has an abundance of nice toys that are no longer used because they have stopped taking toy bags with them to home visits and instead use what children and families have readily available in their environments. The coach decides to give a few of the former toy bag toys to the family. On her next visit, the coach is surprised by the parent's reaction to her gift. The mother expresses thanks, but the coach notices that she becomes quiet and more withdrawn. Although the coach had good intentions, she violated a primary premise of effective helpgiving practices. Yes, the coach demonstrated relational helpgiving; a caring and generous attitude toward the child and family. She did not, however, implement participatory helpgiving practices in this situation. In addition, a significant finding in this area of research is that provision of supports in the absence of an identified family priority or need results in negative outcomes regarding the capacity of family members (Dunst & Trivette, 2009).

Consider an alternative response on the part of the coach that demonstrates both relational and participatory helpgiving practices. As the coach was getting to know the family, she began identifying the interests of the child. The mother mentioned that her young son loved a particular toy that they had seen at the grocery store, but indicated that she could not afford to buy it and that she felt bad about the situation. The coach then asked the mother how she might support her in feeling better about the situation. The mother responded eagerly that she was very interested in identifying some options for toys for her child. A discussion ensued between the coach and coachee about what the mother thought the child liked about particular toys at the store. They also explored past strategies that the mother had used to identify and obtain needed resources, such as shopping at yard sales, the thrift store, and the flea market. As the conversation continued, the mother considered additional options—for example, trading toys with a neighbor or family member and visiting the local library. Then she developed a plan for when and how she would accomplish her goal of obtaining toys for her child.

In the second version of the scenario, the coach demonstrated both relational and participatory helpgiving practices. She showed that she was listening to the parent and displayed care and concern for the mother's feelings and priorities. In addition, the coach engaged in participatory helpgiving practices by implementing a resource-based conversation that engaged the mother in identifying previous strategies, analyzing past successes, and developing a plan of action to achieve her desired outcome.

In light of the evidence about relational and participatory helpgiving practices, particularly with regard to empowerment of family members, practitioners must be aware of and develop skills which ensure that families know and believe the practitioners care about them. In addition, a practitioner must implement strategies and demonstrate behaviors that promote choice and action on the part of the coachee. The coach must support the coachee to readily attribute achievement of desired outcomes to his or her actions. Parents' attribution of the importance and success of their participation, decisions, and actions is a critical factor in building their own capacity to care for their children.


As we will discuss later in this book (in Chapters 7 and 10 specifically), working closely with people from diverse backgrounds can be a new and challenging experience for many early childhood practitioners. Diversity can be expressed in many ways, such as through cultural beliefs and traditions, types and variety of life experiences, and socioeconomic challenges. When they are working with family members and other care providers, practitioners who are using coaching are immediately faced with many of these issues, as the need to communicate effectively is critical for every early childhood coach. Being open to coaching relationships with people who are different from oneself is an essential element of becoming an effective coach.

The literature that we reviewed about characteristics of coaches that depict use of family-centered care and effective helpgiving describes the behaviors and traits that a coach should possess. The attitudes and beliefs of a coach are also important. Hanson and Lynch (2010) and Lynch and Hanson (2004) provided insights that early childhood coaches can consider when developing a new partnership. A coach might think about how his or her own beliefs, past experiences, and traditions are different from the coachee. Barrera and Kramer (2009) have written extensively about how to approach and improve interactions with others, particularly when they have different backgrounds and life experiences. Barrera and Kramer refer to their approach as Skilled Dialogue, and their writings contain helpful information and specific strategies for coaches in a variety of challenging situations, particularly when the coach is inexperienced or has difficulty finding success.

Understanding and embracing diversity is a complex challenge for most early childhood coaches. The concept of "choosing relationship over control" (Barrera & Kramer, 2009, p. 51) seems particularly useful from a coaching perspective. Specifically, a coach who chooses to value the relationship with the coachee, rather than controlling the interaction, places an "implicit and explicit focus" on developing mutual understanding, respect, and acknowledgment of the other person's perspective in connection with one's own (Barrera & Kramer, 2009, p. 52):

Skilled Dialogue calls for a disposition toward choosing relationship over control . . . 1) as a counterbalance to the tendency to choose control; 2) as a direct expression of another's dignity and worth as equal to one's own; and 3) as a more effective means of establishing truly collaborative partnerships.

The coaching relationship is not about agreeing 100% of the time with the coachee or condoning his or her particular behaviors or actions. Developing a true partnership, however, does require constant reflection on the part of the coach and active consideration of the other person's ideas and viewpoint. The coach may find himself or herself in situations in which it is difficult to remain open to understanding how the coachee views the world, his or her possible options and choices, and his or her responses to the decisions that have been made. When a coach feels uncomfortable or judgmental, seeking to understand the coachee's view will certainly afford extended opportunities for the coaching relationship to grow, unlike what might happen in situations in which a coachee feels that his or her coach does not approve of the choices or decisions he or she has made.

Context is a key feature involved in choosing relationship over control (Barrera & Kramer, 2009). Specifically, the coach should strive to create an interpersonal context in which the knowledge and experiences of the coach are tied to a real person (the coachee) who has real thoughts and feelings and about whom the coach actually cares. When a coach steps outside the context and considers a choice or decision made by the coachee based on what he or she (the coach) would have done or what he or she feels the coachee "should" have done, then the relationship is at risk due to the imbalance created by the hierarchical nature of the coach's thoughts. Instead, when a coach is faced with a lack of understanding he or she should seek to view the situation from the coachee's perspective and gather more information that will support the coach in maintaining an open, honest, and caring perspective.

For example, consider a situation in which a coach has supported a parent in her priority to maintain a budget so that she will be able to keep the electricity on in her apartment. The parent has been making progress for the last several months in achieving her desired outcome. Then the coach receives a phone call from a practitioner at another agency asking if he knew that the family's electricity had been shut off for several days. When faced with this information, the coach has two choices: relationship or control. If the coach chooses control, he may have a plethora of responses, including but not limited to 1) judgment ("I'll bet she spent all her money on beer and cigarettes."), 2) anger ("I can't believe she spent the money on something besides the electricity!"), and/or 3) disappointment ("I'm so disappointed . . . why does she always make such poor decisions?") In this same scenario, if the coach chooses relationship over control, here are a few of the thoughts that might come to mind: 1) "Hmmm . . . I wonder what happened?" 2) "I'd better call to share what I've heard and learn more about what happened," and 3) "This wasn't her plan. I need to learn more about what happened." Each of the thoughts that occur to the coach when he chooses relationship over control depicts a situation in which the coach immediately knows he needs to learn more about what happened in order to support the mother in her current situation. Partnering with people who share opinions, views, and beliefs that contrast with one's own is not easy. It does, however, afford the opportunity for continued learning experiences that further develop a coach's skills and abilities to provide support to a wider range of people with varying priorities. Coaches who choose relationship over control will continue to experience learning opportunities that prepare them to be better at their jobs every day. Recognizing these experiences as valuable and meaningful—even experiences that could never have been imagined or planned for—can help coaches enjoy all of their coaching relationships.


Personality attributes clearly are an important factor for any early childhood practitioner, but they must be considered critical for practitioners who serve as coaches. Due to the significance of the relationship component in a coach–coachee partnership, practitioners' abilities to self-reflect on the presence or absence of personality traits is instrumental in developing their coaching skills (Passmore, 2008). Considerations of personality dimensions can assist the coach in understanding and preparing to approach certain situations, or deciding what his or her response might be to a challenge. Measures of personality have explored personality traits and an accepted premise exists that all personality attributes are represented in five core areas: 1) conscientiousness, 2) extroversion, 3) agreeableness, 4) openness to experience, and 5) emotional stability (Barrick & Mount, 1991; Goldberg, 1990; Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, & Barrick, 1999; McCrae & Costa, 1987; Morgeson, Reider, & Campion, 2005). McCrae and Costa further noted that it was important for a coach to consider these personality factors, which are referred to in the literature as the "Big Five."


A conscientious person is responsible, punctual, well organized, reliable, dependable, predictable, hardworking, and careful and pays attention to detail. In studies of early childhood intervention, this characteristic is repeatedly recognized as a critical trait for practitioners to possess (Bell, 2004; DeGangi, Wietlisbach, Poisson, Stein, & Royeen, 1994; Dinnebeil, Hale, & Rule, 1996, 1999; Dunst, Trivette, & Johanson, 1994; Lowenthal, 1992; O'Connor, 1995; Park & Turnbull, 2003; Soodak & Erwin, 2000). For example, an early childhood coach must understand the importance of and recall many details on a regular basis. Specific details about particular children and complex family situations must be part of a coach's daily working knowledge in order for the coach to support every family to which he or she is assigned.

In addition, individual coaching conversations are usually limited by time. In other words, a specific time is scheduled for the visit to occur. For any coach, planning for meaningful conversations within a set period of time can be challenging, especially in natural settings in which a coach needs to be prepared for just about anything. Also consider the fairly concrete aspect of a coach's role in maintaining a busy and punctual home-visiting schedule. Visits are planned to begin and end at a specific time and to allow adequate time for travel between locations. For example, an Early Head Start home visitor must see families on his or her caseload for 90-minute visits on a weekly basis, at a minimum. It is essential to show up on time for every scheduled visit. Being prepared, organized, and mindful of the topics to be discussed at the home visit are clear ways of demonstrating conscientious behavior so that scheduled conversations and visits do not exceed the planned time for the visit and thus do not negatively affect the timeliness of subsequent visits throughout the day. Of course, situations do arise that impede a coach's ability to arrive on time. In these situations, a conscientious coach will make every effort to contact a family to alert them that he or she may be tardy and to confirm that an altered time of arrival is acceptable.


Extroverts often are described as being sociable, friendly, talkative, outgoing, and warm. The specific term extroversion does not readily surface in studies of early childhood intervention; however, the words warm, caring, friendly, able to engage in informal sharing, comfortable with self-disclosure, and sense of humor do appear frequently across a variety of studies (Dinnebeil et al., 1996; Harrison, Lynch, Rosander, & Borton, 1990; Lowenthal, 1992; O'Connor, 1995). The nature of the work really requires an early childhood coach to be outgoing in new and differing situations and contexts.

Consider an early literacy coach working in a small town. Her roles and responsibilities include working with families from a variety of cultures as well as with teachers in child care settings and local preschools. She also spends time with the local children's librarian for a few hours each month. She has opportunities to meet families of all sizes and configurations. She visits some homes in which the members of the household change frequently and she meets someone new on almost every visit. She also works with interpreters when families do not speak English. The agency for which the early literacy coach works uses an interpreting service from a larger city a few hours away, and they often send different interpreters to support her. It is essential for the coach to be comfortable meeting new people and working in these or similar circumstances in order for her to successfully support the parents and teachers with whom she works. Knowing how to comfortably initiate conversations with new people, being at ease sharing personal experiences as a means for building relationships, and using a sense of humor appropriately when circumstances become intense are all examples of extroversion that benefit an early childhood coach.


The words curteous, flexible, trusting, generous, selfless, respectful, and acquiescent are often used to describe a person who is agreeable. Being agreeable is an important trait in promoting practitioner–family partnerships according to a variety of studies. The specific terms respectful or demonstrating mutual respect were mentioned in every study reviewed (Bell, 2004; DeGangi et al., 1994; Dinnebeil et al., 1996, 1999; Dunst & Trivette, 2009; Dunst et al., 1994; Harrison et al., 1990; Lowenthal, 1992; O'Connor, 1995; Park & Turnbull, 2003; Soodak & Erwin, 2000).

On a recent visit to a family child care home, a home visitor had an unplanned opportunity to demonstrate his agreeable and flexible demeanor. The child care provider greeted him at the door and invited him inside. Their plan for that day was to take the three children in her care out to the backyard and to discuss safety and the children's interest in exploring outside. When the home visitor walked into the living room, the children were happily playing with toys and looking at books. The television was on (quite loud) and the child care provider immediately sat down on the sofa with her eyes fixed on the television.

The early childhood practitioner greeted the children and stated to the child care provider, "Our plan from last time was to go out back today. How would you like to proceed?"
The child care provider replied, "Oh, I forgot. I got so tied up in this news report on CNN. They think they've found those guys that tried to rob that bank. I just love this reporting. It's like you're right there with them. Is it OK if we stay inside? I don't want to miss this. My sister will call me tonight and I don't want her to know more about it than I do."
The home visitor replied, "Sure. Would you like to reschedule our appointment? I know how it is when things come up."
She stated, "No, no . . . I don't want you to go. I can keep my eye on this while we do our stuff. I can show you how I've been reading books to them if you want to see."
As the home visitor thought about his options, he tried to figure out how to conduct a home visit that was different from the one that had been planned and that required the television to be loudly playing in the room. Although he was struggling a bit, he knew that this was what the child care provider and children would be doing if he had not been there. He thought about how he could be courteous and respectful, yet be helpful during the visit.
"OK, that sounds good. First, let me ask, would you be reading books while this news report is on?"
She replied, "Honestly, no. I'd probably wait a bit to catch the details and then get back to the kids."
"OK. What do you think about me just watching what you would be doing if I wasn't here, and then we can talk about ways that you're being responsive to the children, even during times like this, when you need to attend to something that's important to you?"
She quickly stated, "Is that all right with you? It's OK with me."

During the next few minutes while she watched the report on CNN, he observed the children going up to the child care provider and interacting with her: showing her a toy or asking her for a drink. One of the children climbed up beside her on the sofa with a book. In each instance, she responded in a kind, gentle, and responsive way. She even stopped watching the television to read a few pages of the book to the child beside her. The home visitor then shared his observations with her and more discussion ensued.

In this scenario, the home visitor demonstrated an agreeable and adaptable attitude toward trying something completely different from what he had been expecting. He was quite concerned initially that focusing a visit on watching television did not really fall under the realm of good practice in early childhood. Because his priority was to be respectful and courteous regarding the child care provider's request, he reflected on how to make the most of the new situation. He was agreeable to the situation and shifted his priorities to be supportive of the person he was coaching.

Openness to Experience

A person who is open to experience might be described as objective, flexible, adaptable, innovative, independent, someone who prefers variety, open-minded, and imaginative. Being open to experiences is a critical factor for a coach in early childhood intervention who is supporting families, teachers, and other care providers. As early childhood coaches spend most of their time in settings that are different from their own (i.e., families' homes, community settings, preschool teachers' classrooms), demonstrating a flexible "go-with-the-flow" attitude can assist in helping everyone involved to feel comfortable and more relaxed. Flexibility and openness to viewing new experiences as learning opportunities is often mentioned as an effective characteristic of early childhood practitioners (Bell, 2004; DeGangi et al., 1994; Dinnebeil et al., 1996; Dunst & Trivette, 2009; Dunst et al., 1994; Lowenthal, 1992; O'Connor, 1995; Park & Turnbull, 2003; Soodak & Erwin, 2000).

For a coach in an early childhood setting, being open-minded, flexible, and creative are requisite traits. Working with children and their family members and care providers in their natural environments provides endless opportunities for a coach to be innovative and adaptable. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) who was new to home visiting was faced with a surprise on a recent home visit with a family that she had been supporting for a short while. The previous plan for the home visit was to support the family around the noon meal. The SLP came prepared with ideas for assisting the parents and the child to communicate more effectively during their family meal at the kitchen table. When she arrived at the home, she heard the father calling out to her, "Hey . . . we're back here. Come on around!" The SLP followed the voice and saw the father and some of the child's teenage siblings down by the creek at the far end of their property. The father then said, "I hope it's okay, we're playing down at the creek. I know we were going to eat lunch together, but we've been having so much fun catching crawdads that we aren't ready to head to the house. I just came up to the house to get more bacon to use as bait and decided to bring some snacks down to the creek for us to eat."

The SLP replied, "Oh! OK, I've never caught crawdads. Will it be all right to leave my shoes and calendar up here on the porch?"
The father stated, "Sure. Good thing you wore a skirt . . . you won't get your britches wet. Come on! Be careful of the stickers in the yard." He bounded back down to the creek with the rest of the children and the family dog while the SLP placed her shoes and paperwork on a chair on the back porch.

On her way down to the creek, the SLP quickly thought about what she needed to do to be supportive of the family. Although she had planned (and prepared) for a meal in the kitchen with the child in his high chair, she was flexible and open to meeting the family where they were on that day and at the particular time of her scheduled visit. She thought that a snack time by the creek would probably happen, so observing the family as they included the youngest child in having a snack would provide great opportunities for shared communication. She also mused that catching crawdads was jam-packed with opportunities for all kinds of learning, including communication. She readjusted her perspective and hurried down the hill to the creek. As she met the family knee deep in creek water, she said, "Where shall we begin? How can I help?"

This scenario depicts a situation in which an early childhood practitioner, although she had been prepared for another circumstance, was able to shift her plans and be open to a new experience. Her response was adaptable to what was important to the family at the time of her visit. Although she was not prepared or dressed for catching crawdads at the creek, she was able to view the new opportunity with interest and excitement. She was flexible in adjusting her mental plan and demonstrated an open and eager attitude to join the family in an important natural learning opportunity.


For a coach to be effective, he or she must have a set of key characteristics or traits that is evident to the coachee. Research also informs early childhood practitioners that using family-centered practices, relational and participatory helpgiving, and skilled dialogue inherently require a coach to possess certain characteristics. The coaching literature describes the "Big Five" personality traits that define a quality coach: conscientiousness; extroversion; agreeableness; open to experience; and emotional stability. Coaches who are competent, open to experiences, adaptable to a variety of situations and circumstances, able to demonstrate a caring, empathetic demeanor, and honest and trustworthy will be effective.